The World is Your Oyster: Stuyvesant Students Study Abroad

Students who studied abroad this past summer reflect on their experiences in the country they visited during the program.

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Forty-seven Stuyvesant students experienced the magic of studying abroad over the summer with the Council of International Educational Exchange (CIEE). Whether it was learning Spanish in Spain or studying theater arts behind the scenes in London, they tried new foods, made friends from across the world, and learned about new cultures. It was an opportunity for them to learn not just outside the classroom but also thousands of miles away from home.

Sophomore Lillian Engber got the opportunity to visit Berlin, Germany, for the German Language and Culture program. In CIEE’s Language and Culture programs, participants are given classroom instruction from local teachers and are exposed to authentic interactions in the foreign country’s culture. Engber joked about Germany in a Zoom interview, “The [Germans] don’t understand humor.”

Each day, Engber took a three-hour class in the morning, made excursions around the city in the afternoon, and spent time with her host family in the evening, which was the structure across all the language programs. While the excursions taught her a lot about German culture, Engber noted that she didn’t learn much from her language classes. Instead, it was her host family who helped her further her German language skills. “My host family spoke very little English, so I learned a lot of German that way,” Engber remarked.

Senior Jawad Sifat, however, got more out of his classes in his Spanish Language and Culture program in Madrid, Spain. “The professor there was actually a Spanish linguist. […] It was really cool getting to learn Spanish the way Spanish students learn it,” he said. “[The professor’s] English is terrible, so he told us, ‘Please, for my survival, speak to me in Spanish. Even if it’s, like, terrible Spanish.’” According to Sifat, the resources in his CIEE classes were much more effective than Vista Higher Learning (VHL), a website commonly used by Stuyvesant’s world language teachers.

As for the cultural immersion of the program, Sifat had several memorable experiences. One of them was discovering a taste for Spanish cuisine. “The waffles are really good. They’re topped with ice cream so you could just take a bit [of it] and eat it and it melts. It was so good, like, I almost died,” he described earnestly. During the trip, he even completed a personal goal: having a romantic encounter in Europe. “I flirted with [someone] in Spanish,” he recalled proudly.

Beyond CIEE’s language programs, students could also study abroad in specific themes. Sophomore Christopher Wong traveled to Lisbon, Portugal for CIEE’s Aquatic Ecosystems and Sustainability program. “The most memorable classes were a fish dissection, a visit to the fish, fruit, and vegetable market, a cooking class, a dance workshop, and a tile painting workshop,” he described in an e-mail interview. “My favorite excursions were surfing, snorkeling, going to the aquarium in Lisbon, kayaking, and dolphin watching. We also did a beach clean-up, went bird watching, did field work, and went to a lot of beaches.”

Understandably, though, CIEE was not a completely smooth experience. Wong mentioned a few faults in the hotel he stayed in, such as its small size and inconvenient location. “We were mainly in a city called Setúbal located about an hour southeast of Lisbon,” he wrote. He also acknowledged that he didn’t have as much freedom in a CIEE theme-based program compared to a language-based program. Nevertheless, he thoroughly enjoyed his time doing unique activities alongside newfound friends. “I had so much fun [...] and am extremely glad that I got to have this opportunity,” he emphasized.

Junior Zelia Ryan-Young, who enrolled in the Behind the Scenes program in London, England, had a few more critiques for her program. “Sometimes it felt like we were doing too many similar things, like museum trips, back to back,” she described. “Even though this program is called Behind the Scenes, it seemed to me to be acting-focused, which a lot of my classmates agreed with.”

Her other excursions included tourist areas in the busy city. “Getting to explore other neighborhoods or towns was really really fun,” she wrote. Additionally, she was able to learn valuable things about theater. “I think the opportunity to see so many different kinds of shows can be helpful to different crew members, mainly lights, sound, or people working with sets, just to get a sense of how far you can go with your work.” As most of her classes were improv-based, Ryan-Young also got the chance to hone her improvisation skills.

Despite some shortcomings, the participants agreed that studying abroad was a distinctly special adventure for them, and they reflected on the advantages of participating in it. For example, they were able to gain a sense of liberty, maturity, and how to manage their own time. With all the free time she had in the big city of Berlin, Engber learned to navigate a foreign country. Sifat similarly observed, “[You can gain] this level of independence that you don’t really have until college.”

Studying abroad also helped Ryan-Young learn how to manage her funds. “Most of my spending money for the trip was my parents’ gift, and [I] just generally [did] my best to keep spending down,” she explained.

Another experience students had was learning to step out of their comfort zones. Wong wrote, “I learned to be less afraid of trying new things and meeting new people. I learned how to be more independent and take better care of myself.” The excursions and trips students had the opportunity to attend allowed them to learn in a non-traditional setting, interact with others besides classmates and teachers, and hone their foreign language skills by practicing with native speakers.

While studying abroad may sound intimidating at first, the incredible memories from distinct activities and global friendships make it a truly worthwhile and rewarding experience for many. What’s offered is a drastically different learning environment from Stuyvesant’s, which lacks authentic local lessons, as detailed by the CIEE alumni. “I wouldn’t trade the experience I had for the world,” Ryan-Young said.